• Hunter Henry finds the end zone twice on his birthday: The New England Patriots tight end has been in a slump since September, but he scored twice early and put up his best single-game yardage total since Week 4.
• Patriots survive without several skill players: Of the Pats’ six running backs and wide receivers who have played more than 250 snaps this season, three were inactive, and one is on injured reserve.
• The Pittsburgh Steelers struggle without Kenny Pickett: Mitch Trubisky led the offense but didn’t reach the 100-yard mark until 12 minutes left. None of his receivers surpassed 35 receiving yards until the last 15 seconds of the game.
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- Ezekiel Elliott: 22 carries, 68 yards; 7 receptions, 72 yards, 1 touchdown
- Hunter Henry: 3 receptions, 40 yards, 2 touchdowns
- The Patriots have typically used a rotation at running back, but that wasn’t the case tonight. Elliott was almost always on the field outside of a few clear passing plays, where running back/wide receiver hybrid Ty Montgomery ran some routes.
- Kevin Harris was called up from the practice squad for the first time all season, but he didn’t play a snap on offense. The Patriots also recently signed JaMycal Hasty, who was a healthy inactive tonight.
- Elliott wasn’t very effective in the run game, but this was his most productive fantasy game as a receiver since 2018.
- If Stevenson misses another game, we can expect Elliott to play a lot against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15. It might be another game where he doesn’t get much rushing production, but he could get used a lot as a receiver again.
Patriots dig deep down the wide receiver depth chart: Three Patriots wide receivers were inactive for this game.
- DeVante Parker, Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte were all inactive with various injuries. Kendrick Bourne is also on injured reserve and is out for the season. This left New England with just one of their four wide receivers who have run at least 200 routes — JuJu Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster was playing in a revenge game and had already put up his best numbers of the season by the end of the first quarter. He ended the night with four receptions for 89 yards.
- As Smith-Schuster has been held under 15 receiving yards in seven of his eight previous games, it’s worth being skeptical about Smith-Schuster’s future fantasy production.
- Tyquan Thornton and Jalen Reagor had run fewer than 100 routes heading into the night, with the pair combining for only eight receptions for 67 yards on the season. Both were healthy inactives at various points of the season, but they served as the second and third wide receivers, respectively, in Week 14.
- Thornton was consistently on the field for two- and three-receiver sets, while Reagor joined the team in three-receiver sets.
- Mike Gesicki was phased out of the offense and played just six offensive snaps last week, but he was on the field in two-tight end sets more often this week so that he could be used as a receiver.
Diontae Johnson loses playing time: Johnson played less than usual, particularly in the first half.
- He was rotated out for Calvin Austin III frequently on early downs. This was a clear sign that the Steelers would run the ball.
- Johnson was on the field for over two-thirds of the Steelers’ run plays from Week 8 to Week 13 once he returned from injury, and the injury didn’t restrict his playing time. Tonight, that mark was 25%.
- This change might have more to do with Austin than Johnson. Austin earned the highest run-blocking grade in the NFL over the first 13 weeks. Johnson is right in the middle of the pack in that same metric.
- The change had no impact on Johnson’s fantasy production tonight, but if the Steelers continue this rotation, they will need to add some pass plays out of this package to make sure it’s not an obvious run tendency. This means the Steelers would be running more pass plays with Johnson off the field than usual.
- The Steelers ran seven plays with Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren on the field. They had typically run one play per game with both on the field. They hadn’t used it more than twice in a game since Week 7.
- Pat Freiermuth remained the top receiving tight end for the Steelers. His backups, Connor Heyward and Darnell Washington, made two of the bigger catches for the team. While it didn’t help any fantasy managers, Freiermuth drew a pass interference call in the end zone that led to a Steelers touchdown.
• Snaps include plays called back due to penalties, including offensive holding or defensive pass interference. The other three stats have these plays removed.
• Targets may differ from official NFL sources. The most likely discrepancy would be from a clear thrown-away pass, where the NFL may give the target to the nearest receiver, while this data will not.
• Carries are only on designed plays. Quarterback scrambles won’t count for the total number of carries in the game.